The camera pans in on aerial shots of the English countryside, unmistakeable greens and browns of rolling hills and fields.
A pigeon flies into view and the camera follows it. Then we see a train, meandering through the countryside. On board, a suspicious looking man rolls a small piece of paper into a cigarette tin. Two well dressed men stalk the carriage, then follow the man to an abandoned building. Realising he is not using a messenger, or at least a human kind, they chase in after him, but fail to shoot down the pigeon which carries the fate of the country.
The camera follows the pigeon, almost in comic fashion, as it turns and pivots through the air, gaining speed as the coast comes into sight. Then suddenly it pauses mid flight, stunned, drops to the ground. A member of the home guard has accidentally saved the day. Private Walker (Daniel Mays) has been shooting pigeons in an attempt to impress a girl. He is then called urgently to join his platoon.
This is our first glimpse of the new cast and they are filmed stalking through the forest in the style of a modern action film, which makes what comes next, all the more hilarious. They line up behind some bushes following Captain Mainwaring’s orders to proceed with caution. They all appear tense, guns poised as they wait for the command. Then the camera pans round and we see that their great enemy is in fact a large Highland bull. Mainwaring’s orders fall on deaf ears, as he turns and finds them nowhere to be seen. The bull then proceeds to chase him into a patch of bog, with the rest of the platoon running and shouting across the field in true Dad’s Army fashion. And with that, we fall comfortably into the story.
Director Oliver Parker (St Trinians films, Johnny English Reborn) and writer Hamish Mccoll (co wrote screenplay for Paddington) have taken on quite a challenge, making a film of one of the best loved British sitcoms ever.
Those involved have emphasised that this brave production should be considered as a stand alone thing. The film is an attempt to pay homage to the sitcom which ran from 1968-1977 and became an instant hit with households throughout Britain. To pay tribute to the actors (only one of whom is still alive) , the wonderful characters originally created by David Croft and Jimmy Perry. In other words, this is their take on the story, their take on the characters. And..don’t panic, it works.
Parker and McColl manage to capture the essence of Dad’s Army. Walmngton-on-sea is still very much as it was. From the rural landscape, to the village streets, tea shops and haberdashery. Wartime is symbolised by building rubble and Anderson shelters. Crucially, It still has that very British feel.
The notorious characters of Mainwaring, WIlson, Pike, Godfrey, Jones are back (they even look so much like them), the famous quotes are there, with a few twists. (Who do you think you are kidding Mr Churchill!) There is also the welcome addition of some famous faces, including Catherine Zeta Jones as Reporter Rose Winters who shakes up the platoon, (She smoulders in a channel suit) and Felicity montagu as Mainwaring’s formidable wife.
Sarah Lancashire is the great Northern housewife to Bill Nighy’s well spoken, dithering Sergeant Wilson distracted by an unfulfilled past. Anette Crosby and Julie Foster as Godefrey’s sisters. It is also nice to see Ian lavender return (Pike of the TV Series) as Brigadier Pritchard and Frank Williams reprising his original role as the vicar.
Mark Gatiss (Co writer of Sherlock) makes an appearance as the MI5 leader, tasked with informing Mainwaring of the spy in their town and doesn’t fail to hold back his judgement of the platoon, especially when an attempt to rescue Mr Mainwaring who has fallen from a cliff, leads to the disastrous unveiling of a state secret.
Toby jones is perfect as the mumbling, unfortunate Mr Mainwaring. Leading his platoon, he stumbles from one misdemeanour to another, distracted by the beauty of Miss Winters despite his wife at home.
Michael Gambon’s Godfrey is near identical to the original. The inbetweeners blake Harrison is ‘stupid boy’ Private Pike, who must show what he’s capable of when the Platoon’s failures bring war to their shores.
The story has all of the expected humour of the original series, with the odd innuendo which isn’t even necessary. A great script, a talented British cast and the return of our beloved Dad’s Army characters is all that’s needed to make this tribute a roaring success.